There are no "do-overs" in baseball, as much as Cubs General Manager Jim Hendry would like one right now.
Less than a week after trading fan-favorite and possible right fielder Mark DeRosa to Cleveland this offseason, Hendry signed free agent OF Milton Bradley to a three-year, $30 million dollar contract.
Many Cubs fans weren't happy, not only to see DeRosa go, but to see a player brought in who had played over 120 games in a season just twice, and most of those at the designated hitter position. I'm not even going to get into the on and off the field antics he is so well known for either.
You've all heard the reasons for the signing. Among them, the Cubs needed to get more left-handed players on the team, and wanted guys who could get on base. Technically, Bradley fits both of those categories, but it doesn't matter if he can't get on the field.
Just over two months into the season, Bradley has played in 41 of the Cubs' 54 games, starting just 33 of them. He is batting just .218, with 5 HR and 14 RBI, and a paltry .340 OBP.
A far cry from last year's league-leading .436.
So I'm back to my question. Was the Bradley signing the worst possible one for the Cubs?
I'm going to look at this in detail, but note a few things first. One, the trade of DeRosa happened. Period. No taking that back. Two, I'm assuming the Cubs needed to sign a free agent outfielder, rather than keeping Kosuke Fukudome in right and having Reed Johnson/Jim Edmonds split time in center. Not like that worked during 2008 or anything.
Finally, Bradley's contract is three years, $30 million, but it is not divided evenly. Bradley makes $5 million this year and received a $4 million signing bonus, so for purposes of this analysis his salary will be $9 million for 2009.
Here are the notable OF free agent signings that I could have seen the Cubs going after:
one-year, $5 million deal with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Abreu is 35 years old, and is not a long-term solution. At the time that the Cubs signed Bradley, Abreu was still looking for a deal in the range of three years, $45 million, so technically Bradley was cheaper at the time of the signing.
Despite all of that, Abreu is hitting .293, with 2 HR and 26 RBIs and a .396 OBP. He has walked 32 times compared to 25 Ks, and has played in 51 of the Angels' 55 games. For just over half the price of Bradley and two less years, this would have been a better signing for 2009.
three-year, $31.5 million deal with the Philadelphia Phillies
Ibanez's contract is slightly larger than Bradley's, but his 2009 salary is less ($6.5 million plus $2 million signing bonus). Oh, and Ibanez is playing like an MVP at age 37.
After playing under the radar up in Seattle, Ibanez is bursting into the spotlight for the defending champs. Somehow, at age 37, he is putting up the best numbers of his career. Through 55 games he is batting .329, with 19 HR and is leading the NL with 54 RBI, one off the major league lead. He leads the league in slugging percentage at .676, and his OPS (OBP + SLG) of 1.062 is second only to Albert Pujols.
The Cubs didn't show an ounce of interest in this guy. While it's true that Ibanez has played the last four seasons in left field, he is a very versatile player. Ibanez has played all three outfield positions as well as 1B, 3B and one game at catcher in his career.
Right field in Wrigley is a difficult position defensively, but he can't be much worse than the combination of Bradley, Micah Hoffpauir and Jake Fox defensively.
Needless to say, this would have been a better signing than Bradley.
two-year, $20 million deal with the Washington Nationals
In this writer's humble opinion, the no-brainer. He was available, left-handed, an OBP machine, and absolutely loves to play at Wrigley Field. Want proof? Aside from Great American Ball Park, where Dunn called home for seven plus seasons, Dunn has hit the most homers at Wrigley Field with 23.
Along those lines, the guy is a Cub-killer. He has hit 38 HR in his career against the Cubs (including seven off Carlos Zambrano), seven more than any other team. Next on the list, predictably, are Milwaukee, St. Louis, Houston and Pittsburgh. How great would it be to have him mashing against those guys?
Back to reality. On average, Dunn makes the same as Bradley, but in '09 he is making less at $8 million. He is batting .264, near his career best, and has a .396 OBP. Not to mention his 17 HR and 44 RBI in 56 games. His defense might not be stellar, but reference the point made in the Ibanez argument above.
What about all the strikeouts? Yes, there are plenty. Dunn has K'ed 61 times so far in just 56 games but when a guy is tied for second in the league in walks at 44, it's acceptable. Bradley has 25 strikeouts in 42 games (33 starts), and just 19 walks to go with it.
I would much rather have Dunn on the Cubs than Bradley.
Those are the three players I could have seen the Cubs signing instead of Bradley. Manny Ramirez was the only other big name free agent OF out there, and that's a whole other story. He's just one of the few players the Cubs never looked at or were considering, including:
three-year, $12.75 million deal with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
.303 BA, 6 HR, 25 RBI, costs $3.25 million in '09
two-year, $6.25 million deal with the Cincinnati Reds
12 SBs in 44 games and only costs $2.25 million in '09
one-year, $2.5 million deal with the Atlanta Braves
Hitting just .254 with 2 HR and 16 RBI, but he has started just 31 games and only cost $2.5 million this year.
one-year, $800,000 minor-league deal with the Washington Nationals
Ok, so maybe Bradley wasn't the absolute worst option.
I realize that it's only two months into the season, Bradley hasn't been fully healthy all year, and he has plenty of time to bounce back and contribute. Great. I'll believe it when I see it. Until then I'll just keep thinking about what might have been.